We see you, Internet.
– Alison + Elise
Note: Some spoilers for Homeland ahead!
It’s not often that I catch myself engaging in overtly self-destructive behavior. Sure, I’ve sent drunken texts I that regret, and then ordered pizza, cheesy bread, and a 2-liter Coke Reg for one—all when I had perfectly acceptable leftovers in the fridge, and an unacceptable amount of money in the bank. But I’d like to think I have my shit together in more important ways. I have a 401(k) for chrissake.
But recently, I made two decisions that caused me to question my good judgment. In a moment of temporary insanity, I decided to jump back into two shows I’d previously abandoned – Homeland and American Horror Story.
I gave up on this show last season, with only two episodes until the finale. They’d stretched the Brody character so thin over three seasons that I gave no shits what happened to him, or to his lover Temple Grandin. Season four was strongly marketed as the reset we’d all been waiting for—which would have come in season two, had the writers had the balls to kill Brody off as planned. After three years of Carrie’s chin-quivering and derp-tastic Chris and Dana, I was so ready to see Ms. Matheson be good at her job again, sans distractions. There was a zero percent chance that the writers wouldn’t have Carrie running around shouting at everyone like a mental patient. But I was willing to accept that, as long as her instincts were finally back on track. So I was reeled back in.
And, if we ignore all that baby stuff, it started off pretty strong. The murder of that bald guy from House of Cards launched a promising mystery. Tracy Letts was killing it, per usual. As was sexy, sexy, tiny-mouth himself, Peter Quinn.
I should have known it was too good to last.
When Carrie started coaching Fara to seduce-recruit the Teen Virgin/Doctor, a red flag went up in my brain. Please do not go where I think you’re going to go, Homeland. I will seriously do your chores for a month if you will just let this show have a strong, stable female protagonist who kicks ass in the field. And that’s it, The End, no weird sex entanglements. Kewl?
If she were a dude, the writers never would have had her screw that kid. Or given her the feelz for Brody. And Quinn is in love with her?! WHY?!?!?!? NOTHING MAKES SENSE. For two seconds I was lead astray, but my initial instincts to drop this hot mess were right. Auf Wiedersehen, Homeland, you piece of shit.
Unrelated, but I must get this off my chest, since I’m unlikely to write about Homeland ever again: Why did everyone call him Brody?!? EVEN HIS WIFE. MRS. BRODY. Srsly why.
American Horror Story
I watched the first season of this show on FX without knowing it was an anthology series. I was extremely confused when everyone died in the last couple episodes. How are they going to keep this going next year? American Horror Story: All Connie Brittons Go to Heaven? The premier season had some pretty scary moments, especially the faceless, latex-clad dude creepin’ around in the background. But the back half of the episodes felt tedious, and I didn’t tune into Asylum or Coven out of laziness.
The critical dialogue surrounding the series, coupled with this season’s Freak Show conceit, piqued my interest, so I’m back. I hadn’t seen the show since it fully embraced its campiness, and a circus provides the perfect platform. The freaks are set starkly against the vivid 50s Florida background. I’m into the anachronistic music, and super into Kathy Bates’ stellar performance as the bearded lady.
So why was jumping back into this show such a mistake?
I don’t have any issue with clowns generally. But this clown. Fucking sucks. I hate him. Every time I try to fall asleep he creeps into my brain, and I’m convinced he’s standing by my bed with those effing scissors. Everyone! This is my Gone Girl-style diary—if I end up dead, a fictional character came through the TV and murdered me to death.
You’d think I’d know better—I’m a life-long fraidy cat. I do not enjoy being scared. I was sort of tricked into seeing The Ring in theatres, and I was so upset afterward I ended up sleeping in my parents’ bed, still shaking. I was a freshman in high school.
Despite Twisty the Clown, or The Worst Thing That’s Ever Happened to Me Personally, I will keep watching Freak Show. It is truly original, and I am fascinated to see where the writers will take the season. In a world with no rules, it could go anywhere, for better or worse.
And I’d rather watch a literally-decaying nightmare than this wet wad of toilet paper.
Let’s pretend, for a second, that HBO and Netflix are two of the more important relationships in my life.
I know, what a stretch!
Beginning next year, HBO will offer unbundled subscriptions to an unnamed streaming service (probably HBO GO, but HBO loves being mysterious, and so, has not specified).
This is, obviously, not an emergency. HBO will not take over the Internet, nor will Netflix go the way of Blockbuster and die a scary, excruciatingly drawn-out death, one strip-mall location at a time. As smarter folks than I have already observed, streaming services are “not a zero-sum game”—there is enough audience to go around. If anything, there’s a surplus of content—and literally not enough hours in the day or platforms in the world to accommodate it all.
HBO GO, Netflix and I spend a lot of time together. And, as my mom might say about my sister and me: I love them both equally, for very different reasons.
HBO GO is like a sophisticated, enigmatic older boyfriend. He thinks he’s smarter than me, but I’m weirdly into that. He’s vaguely pretentious; enjoys both Beyoncé *and* Olive Kitteridge; and eats at fancy restaurants where hamburgers cost $26, but taste amazing. He’s also kind of a dick sometimes.
Then, there’s Netflix. Netflix is my roommate. She’s seen me stumble in at all hours, jonesing for twenty minutes of mindless entertainment, before passing out on the couch. She’s seen me gross and teary after a date gone horribly awry, and on those Friday nights when I hate people and all I want to do is drink quietly and watch Clueless. She’s hilarious and laid-back and knows me so well (Recommended For You: Profound Indie Comedies Featuring A Strong Female Lead And Many Delicious Baked Goods).
Netflix recently made every season of Gilmore Girls available for streaming—and has announced that it will do the same with Friends. Basically giving me unlimited, on-demand access to all the warm fuzzies and gooey feelings in the land. Why even make in-person friends anymore?
These shows are my security blankets—easy to watch, often hilarious, and have comforted me during some genuinely upsetting moments. Friends and Gilmore Girls are both about building the relationships that matter, and learning from the people you love. Friends is not real life, sure—but the characters care about each other. Speaking as an often cynical, sometimes self-absorbed, always confused twentysomething, that’s not an easy, nor an unremarkable thing.
So, I’ve got my moods: Want to feel smart, but also laugh, but also feel vaguely depressed, and Introspective? The Comeback!
Want to be a little judgy, and get a little trashy, but not care because I’m among friends? The Queen of Versailles! (Documentaries always make you smarter, anyway).
HBO may be a high-maintenance date, and at times confounding (can we talk about The Leftovers? I mean, really—what was that?), but he is always reliable, and has a good heart. Netflix can be a touch cheesy, but is always down for a good time. There’s plenty of love for everyone in my web browser. Amazon and Hulu, included.
So long as my parents don’t change their passwords.
Guys, I read this book, and I’m pretty sure I wrote it. Or else this bitch stole my diary.
In the opening pages, Katie introduces her dating theory: there are two types of people, Lighthouses and Bermuda Triangles. The first group is a radiant bunch, never without a boy for long, at least on the back burner. On the other hand, there are people like Ms. Heaney:
“[A Bermuda Triangle] doesn’t mean to do any harm, and it’s actually pretty nice once you get to know it. It’s just that Bermuda doesn’t know how to handle itself when somebody sails into its territory, because that hardly ever happens. It hasn’t had much chance to practice, and it’s used to things going a certain way. So if a sailor DOES come around, it gets a little nervous, freaks the fuck out, and creates hurricane-like devastation around it. And then it gets embarrassed and sad and calls its friends.”
If only I’d known that spilling all my lack-of-love stories would get me a book deal, I wouldn’t have started this godforsaken blog. Instead I’d be in St. Tropez right now, with a bed made of money and a pet diamond. Alas.
Over the course of her book, Katie tracks her history with boys from kindergarten to the present day. She describes the archaeological treasure that is her childhood diary (containing inexplicable entries like, “I have a very cute boyfriend. He is funny. I love Jesus. Oxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox.”); lighting a chip on fire and then eating it to impress a boy at her first high school party (unsuccessful); and a five-hour Internet date with a dude who said “buckets” instead of “fuck” (as in, “what the buckets”).
Reading all this, I was overcome with déjà vu. Like Katie, I was obsessed with following the rules and terrified of my parents. Once, in third grade, I forgot to write my name on my homework, and I cried. (This, while humiliating, did get me out of having to go to Homework Accountability a.k.a. Basically Pretty Much Detention, You’re Not Fooling Anyone.) I also had crushes on one boy or another throughout my entire education, though they were fodder for daydreaming more than anything else. In middle school, I was desperate to get to freshman year because I was sure a boyfriend awaited me there. Tell 12-year-old Alison that 26-year-old Alison still hasn’t been able to lock it down, and she’d probably retreat further into her love of Hanson and musical theatre, destined never to be kissed.
Like Katie, I have some amazing Lighthouse friends, who are beautiful and smart and hilarious and independent. Though thankfully none of them are boy-crazy (a phrase which never fails to remind me of Stacy from the Babysitter’s Club), their single-time is full of guys asking them out, them being like, “Ugh, I don’t know, I’m still getting over whats-his-face,” before one of their suitors inevitably turns out to be solid BF/GF material. On the other hand, my last date was a blind set-up that got downgraded last-minute from an actual restaurant to a Corner Bakery. I REPEAT. My only date in the past seven months was at a place the dude referred to as “the Panera of downtown.” Uh, pretty sure PANERA IS THE PANERA OF DOWNTOWN, GUY.
Clearly, I’ve had poor luck in the love department. Actually, “poor” is probably too dramatic. If anything, I’ve had non-luck. It’s been a series of spread-out Situations that start with varying levels of promise, but fizzle after about a month. And that’s pretty much it. I’m comforted by Heaney’s story: it’s nice to know that I’m not the last lonely singleton out there, and that frankly, there’s someone out there with even less experience than me. She’s had a distinct lack of any Situations whatsoever. It’s like finding the Chupacabra.
Now, I don’t mean to get too off the rails into the Land of the Sad Sacks. I’m not sitting at home pining away about finding “The One”—I really like my life, everybody. And importantly, while the comedy of this memoir is much stronger in the beginning, as she describes the shenanigans of her youth, its heart shows up in the second half. The book transforms into a story of female friendship. Like how she “calls an emergency cabinet meeting” a.k.a. individually texts all her friends for advice in times of Great Boy Uncertainty. I’m not super proud that I, too, have this tendency. In fact, such texts are usually followed by something like, “Ugh sorry that I’m the most annoying.” But my buddies are spread across the country, and sometimes I need everybody to chime in on pressing questions like “Does this Tinder guy look like he’s actually gay?” or “Does this Tinder guy look like he will murder me?” or “Should I get off Tinder because it’s full of gay murderers?” I wish I could ask them in person, over a glass of Malbec.
And in that spirit, let these words from the introduction encourage you to please, please read this delightful book:
“My absolute favorite thing in the world to do is sit around a room with my friends and some wine and remind each other of our worst-ever dating stories…That’s what I hope this book feels like. You and I are hanging out, and I am drinking too much and talking to you—about my most embarrassing adventures in flirting and kissing and liking boys—for a really long time. You are such a good listener. I mean it.”
And that’s exactly what it feels like.
BREAKING NEWS, Catzilla and I both swiped right, so maybe things are looking up.
Pilot season this fall has been dominated by marriage, and explorations of committed, boy-on-girl relationships. I literally cannot be argued with–just look at the series titles: Married on FX. Marry Me on NBC. The Affair on Showtime. Seriously, it’s right there.
Thing is (and I’m definitely not the first person to say this, nor the last): What I’ve seen of this new crop of shows isn’t…good. I’m already missing some of the fresh, hilarious gems that brightened my summer–when, in a surprising and delightful turn of events, lady comedians and female friendship dominated the airwaves. Here, a tribute to one of my very favorite new shows, and a personal plea to USA TV execs for renewal:
The premise of USA’s Playing House: Emma and Maggie have been best friends forever. Emma returns to her small-town home for Maggie’s baby shower. Maggie promptly discovers that her husband is a cheating Internet weirdo, and Emma drops everything to move in with Maggie, and to help with the newborn. Co-creators and co-stars Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham are real-life best buddies and collaborators, and it shows. The show glows with warmth generated by their love and their crazy. Awkward plot moments and the super-thin secondary characters (thus far, but improving) move to the background when Emma (St. Clair) and Maggie (Parham) come together onscreen. This thing is begging for renewal.
I don’t love it when girls touch me. I’ve never quite understood the GIRLS-style female friendship that requires joint nudity, or doing that horrible arm-in-arm walking thing. It is the least effective, least comfortable way to walk.
But ladylove, Emma and Maggie-style? I have that. Let me tell you, that kind of friendship is pretty singular, and I am not sure a girl should be allowed more than one. One at a time, at least–maybe one in a lifetime. There is a ridiculous abundance of brilliant, hilarious and wonderful women in my life. But this one, with my co-blogger, and the one I see when I watch Playing House, examines something uniquely female and totally underrepresented on the small screen ’till now. One where the emotional stakes don’t necessarily manifest physically–with touching, hugging, curling up together in bed or snotting in a bathtub. You just–feel them.
Since I moved to San Francisco, Alison and I have stayed in shockingly close touch. I’m actually pretty good at keeping up with people, in general (I lied in our first post). But there are only so many bi-monthly hour-long phone-call-type relationships one can sustain. It’s exhausting. But then texting happened! It’s so great! And, if you’re Alison and I, it’s also the perfect tool to hone our writing-based, cynicism-powered observational one-liner skills.
In the way that so many ladies decide they’re “a Miranda” or “a Carrie” in their friendships, Alison and I both agree that if Playing House were a thing that happened to us, we’d both be Emmas. But the dynamic is us–two smart, stubborn and fiercely independent women who also, somehow, need each other. But NEVER talk about it. Because that’s sort of gross and also because–who cares? We don’t need to say it out loud. It’s there.
That kind of easy female comfort, coinciding with a deep mutual respect and awareness of boundaries/wants/desires is incredibly rare. And unbelievably hard to write. That’s probably why we haven’t seen it on TV until two BFFs decided to make it together.
Emma can go take a nap when she’s tired of hanging out. Maggie won’t get pissed–she’ll probably be glad for a moment to herself. Maggie can bust out Bosephus, and Emma can reminisce briefly about dry-humping some guy they both knew under the bleachers in high school. Most especially for girls, shared memories lay the foundations for the kind of wrought-iron friendship these ladies have. But memories are not the sum of that friendship–Emma and Maggie are invested in the present tense. In creating that present tense together, and also by supporting and celebrating their independent experiences.
This, I think, separates it from a show like Sex and the City. The show is a classic portrait of feminine friendship, yes–but you can’t divorce that friendship from men. Male relationships and sex are the foreground for each character’s story–again, it’s baked right into the title.
So, I’m excited about Playing House–for all the reasons that any person should love good art. They see themselves in it. I see Alison and I, albeit quietly, in Emma and Maggie. And it makes me hope–nay, believe–that were I pregnant and divorcing my cheating ex-husband, I’d have someone to call. Or that if Alison found herself in that hysterically funny situation, vice versa.
To Alison, and all the Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parhams out there, let me illustrate what I mean with one final example, drawn from another Very Important Female Friendship Moment on TV: if you were Carrie, your diaphragm were stuck, and you genuinely, seriously needed a Samantha-style “helping hand” (terrible), I would be that hand. Without question. But I will not hold your hand for no reason. That’s weird.
NOTE: Some Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal spoilers ahead!
To the surprise of no one, Shonda Rhimes has another ABC smash on her hands, with over seven million people watching the series premiere of the Viola Davis vehicle How to Get Away with Murder. Critics, too, have been widely positive about Davis’ performance. In my research, however, I found that Google has not caught up with the nation quite yet. Typing “how to get away with” prompted suggested searches of “cheating on my girlfriend” and “sexual harassment.” Solid work as usual, Internet!
In its first three episodes, the show has been A+ — snappy, murdery, and adultery-y in all the best ways. Frankly, it’s almost boring how good Shonda Rhimes is at this. In their prime, her other shows, Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal (and this is where I confess to completely forgetting about Private Practice, and I will not mention it again), were tops, too. We get it, Shonda. You could teach a Master Class on this ish, so let’s go over a couple points on the syllabus.
A Large, Multicultural Workplace in a Medium-Large City
In order to provide the greatest number of potential hookups in a metropolitan setting, she’s given us a hospital in Seattle, the political amphitheatre of D.C, and now a law school in Philadelphia (P.S. Paris Geller, what are you doing here? YOU DECIDED TO BE A DOCTOR REMEMBER??). Each cast of characters is a perfect meeting of brains, multi-ethnic beauty, and murky ethics. For Shonda’s next show, I predict either a Boston cop drama or a newspaper publisher in Minneapolis, but, like, sexy.
Sex, Death, Estranged Family Members
If you’re not having an affair, you’re most likely straight up murdering people.
A Strong Black Woman Whose Respect You Need to Earn
Bailey from Grey’s Anatomy is my favorite Shonda character.* She’s sassy without fulfilling a stereotype and is the only reason I know the word fistula. The writers softened her too much as the seasons progressed, but she delivered her heartfelt moments without sentimentality. Viola Davis’ Annalise Keating fills this role fairly obviously in HTGAWM, but as for Scandal? I’m not quite sure. I think it’s supposed to be Olivia? But these days Mellie’s wig is demanding more respect than Liv’s intolerable and continuous blubbering.
People So Into Their Jobs They Alienate Everyone Else
*JK Cristina is also my favorite. She’s cutthroat, works her ass off, but is always down for a balls-out dance party. On the other end, Scandal’s Huck is the worst example of this trope. He’s like a cartoon someone made for a fifties propaganda film about the terrors of Asperger’s.
Someone Who Is The Fucking Worst
Quinn. Fucking. Perkins. Will someone please kill this idiot already? Not only was she a terrible whiner about Olivia saving her from being framed for murder, she’s also 100% unbelievable in her new role as hacker/torturer/leather-wearer. And all her sex stuff makes me feel weird and bad. Barf. See also: Izzie Stevens.
Can’t be 100% sure yet, but I think HTGAWM’s offender is Wes a.k.a. Dean Thomas, the lone black person in Harry Potter. He has the muted eagerness of a deaf puppy — he can’t really tell what’s going on but hopes someone will pet him soon. The fact that he got off the waitlist last minute is supposed to make him some sort of underdog, but sorry, what is the hardship here? Oh, he’s boring? This dude is a 2×4 brought to life, but with less personality.
Honorable mention goes to HTGAWM’s Michaela, who had a brush with homophobia in last week’s episode when she found out her (straight) fiance had fooled around with a dude in high school. “People are gay! My cousin is gay! It’s not a big deal. I’ll still be your friend.” Yikes.
The Flame Out Syndrome a.k.a. Everything Becomes Batshit Insane
Her shows don’t jump the shark – they take a fucking flying leap over a Great White. I gave up watching Grey’s years ago, but I hear Meredith has discovered like seven secret siblings by now. And that Mellie and Big Jerry rape plot as a sympathy device in Scandal? Too. Far. WHAT’S WITH ALL THE RAPING ON TV THESE DAYS?! SOMEONE PLEASE TURN UP MY HEARING AID. NOW, WHO WANTS TO PLAY MAHJONG?
It seems only a matter of time before HTGAWM follows suit, but for now, regardless of my complaining, I love it. Viola Davis could read actual legal documents out loud while wearing a garbage bag, and I’d still be obsessed with her. And a limited 15 episode first season won’t hurt either. By the time it all goes to crap, Shonda will have a whole new show anyway, and we can all start fresh again together. Can’t wait to tune in to see the sexy journalists at the aforementioned Minneapolis newspaper – set your DVR for Slutty Copy, Thursdays at 8/7 central.
Welcome to the inaugural post of Pop Cultured, a long-awaited (by us) blog covering books, movies, TV, podcasts – all the entertainment of your dreams! We’re Alison and Elise – friends, former roommates, California natives, lovers of pop culture and the people who drive it. See the About Us tab for carefully selected flattering photos.
We met as freshman at Northwestern University, and then lived together in Chicago for three years. In our Lakeview apartment, many a night was spent on the couch, drinking cheap wine and watching an episode or four of Damages or The West Wing. Sometimes, if Alison was watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills or some other serious trash, Elise would bring her computer to the living room and watch something Important, like Deadwood, with her headphones in. It was a very special time. [NOTE: We also had a third roommate, Elizabeth. We thoughtfully edited out a snarky comment about how she’s married now and thus out of our lives, but it turns out she wants her fifteen minutes of fame. Hi Elizabeth!]
About a year and a half ago, Elise moved to San Francisco. Though historically inept at keeping in touch, we’ve maintained a steady stream of texts, gchats, emails (even phone calls!)–mostly about boys, tv, or some combination of the two.
We both adore Logan Echolls, NPR’s Linda Holmes and the public library. At one time, these shared passions guided us through the awkward, clumsy introductory phase of our friendship. Now, critical conversation and spirited (but respectful) disagreements (The Help is unbearable, Top of the Lake is better than True Detective, The Wire is overrated [Note from Alison: I NEVER SAID THAT]) color almost everything we think and write. And, by happy accident, we still really like each other.
We watch a lot of TV and movies, we read a lot of books, and we have a lot of feelings about all of it. Now, it’s time to share.
So pour yourself a glass of Walgreens chardonnay, and stick around.